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Tag: Emmanuel Baptist Church Pontiac

IFB Church Movement: Win Them, Wet Them, Work Them, Waste Them

church size matters
Cartoon by David Hayward, The Naked Pastor

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement traces its genesis back to the debate over modernism within Evangelical — primarily Baptist — sects and churches. This internecine war led Fundamentalists to split off from Baptist sects such as the American Baptist Convention (ABC) and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). By the late 1950s and 1960s, these separatists founded their own colleges, proudly wearing the IFB label. Historically, the 1960s-1980s were the heyday of the IFB church movement. Many of the largest churches in America were IFB churches. Today, most of those churches are either closed or shells of what they once were.

I attended Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan for three years in the mid-1970s. Pastored by Tom Malone, Emmanuel Baptist was considered by everyone to be an IFB success story. Today, its doors are shuttered, and its college, Midwestern Baptist College, is a ministry of an IFB church in Orion, Michigan. Church and college properties were sold to developers. The dorm that was my home for three years has been converted into apartments. Emmanuel’s story is common among IFB churches. Books were written about these churches’ success, but where are the tomes detailing their decline and death?

There was a day when numbers drove IFB preachers: church attendance, Sunday school attendance, salvation decisions, baptisms, and offerings. Let me give readers an example of numbers-driven thinking. IFB evangelist Dennis Corle, who held three revivals for me back in the 1980s, accounts for his life this way:

Dennis Corle entered full time evangelism in 1981. In the past 38 years: he has traveled over 4 million miles, held over 2,085 revival meetings and over a thousand one-day meetings as well as Soul-winning and Revival Fires Conferences.

In his ministry he has had over 71,336 saved and 19,422 baptized. He has seen thousands of young people surrender for full time ministry many of whom are presently serving the Lord full time as well as thousands of members added to independent Baptist Churches during his meetings.

He is the founder and president of Revival Fires Baptist College which is a correspondence college that offers a full 4-year program. He started and teaches a summer institute designed to train young evangelists in the field. Dr. Corle also teaches in several fundamental Baptist colleges each year.

Dennis Corle is the founder of Revival Fires Publishing. His ministry has published 127 books to date.

Bob Gray, Sr. is another IFB bean counter. Now retired, Gray, Sr. describes his ministerial prowess this way:

[Bob Gray, Sr.] pastored for 29 years in Longview, Texas. Under Dr. Gray’s leadership, LBT had over one million souls come to Christ. Longview Baptist Temple grew from a low of 159 to 2,041 in weekly attendance under his ministry. The church gave 9.3 million dollars to missions and gave $ 325,000 to help the poor in the Ark-La-Tex area in those 29 years. The church averaged 2,041 the last year of his pastorate in 2008. The church baptized 4,046 converts in the same year. Dr. Gray had 99 baptisms from his personal soul winning in 2013.

….

Dr. Gray has written 34 books . . . He has preached in every state of the union with the lone exception being North Dakota and 17 foreign countries. He is a conference speaker and local church consultant having flown over 6 million air miles.

size matters
Three IFB preachers checking to see who has the biggest church

In the 1970s and 1980s, I attended countless IFB preacher’s meetings and conferences. These meetings were an opportunity for preachers to preach, gossip, eat lots of food, and compare dick sizes. The number one question asked at these meetings was this: “how many ya running these days?” Everyone wanted to know who had the biggest dick. Boast of John Holmes-like size, and everyone wanted to know how you did it. Numerical success meant you were being “used” by God or that God was “blessing” your church. Conference speakers were always pastors whose churches were numerically growing or had large Sunday attendances. Rare was the speaker who pastored a small, failing church. In IFB circles, size mattered.

IFB pastors practiced what I call the Four W’s. In this methodological system, you find why IFB churches numerically succeeded and why they are dying on the vine today.

Win Them

After attracting disaffected Christians from other IFB churches and busing children to the church, the single best way to grow a church was to win (evangelize) sinners to saving faith in Jesus Christ. IFB churches considered themselves to be soul-saving centers. Sermons, altar calls, and evangelistic programs were all geared towards saving souls. One church I pastored in southeast Ohio for eleven years had over 600 public professions of faith. Rare was the Sunday in the 1980s when multiple people weren’t at the altar asking Jesus to save them. I judged the success or failure of my sermons by how many people walked the aisle on Sundays.

Wet Them

After getting saved, new converts were told that their first step of obedience to Christ was baptism by immersion (and then reading the Bible, tithing, prayer, tithing, attending church every time the doors were open, tithing). Getting people saved was the easy part. Getting them to submit to being held under water by a Baptist preacher? Not as easy. IFB churches typically had large new convert numbers, but not as many baptisms. The reason for this was simple. Many new converts never returned to church after getting saved or came for a few weeks and then stopped attending after hearing the pastor rage against “sin” — their sin. People attracted to a particular IFB church’s “friendliness” quickly found out that friendship was conditioned on obedience and fealty to bat-shit crazy beliefs and practices.

Work Them

After getting people saved and baptized, it was time to indoctrinate them into the cult by giving them work to do. The success of any IFB church relies on the unpaid labor of its members. Not only were church members expected to attend church every time the doors were open, but they were also expected to go on visitation, work in the bus ministry, teach Sunday school, man (I mean woman) the nursery, work in Junior Church, oversee the youth ministry, etc. IFB churches are a way of life, with services and ministries taking up virtually every day of the week. On-fire, sold-out Christians worked, worked, worked, and worked for their pastor, uh, I mean God. No matter how many hours they worked at their jobs or how many hours they spent caring for family, congregants were expected to give their all to their pastor, uh, I mean God.

Take the IFB church I pastored in southeast Ohio. We had church activities going on virtually every day of the week. We also had a private Christian school. And then we had conferences and revivals. All told, church members were expected to show up and participate in services, events, and ministries over 300 days a year. Not showing up brought the wrath of the pastor, uh, I mean God, upon your head.

Waste Them

It should come as no surprise that such a frenetic church life led to burnout. IFB churches loved to count the people coming through the front door, but not those leaving out the back. As long as more people came through the front door than who left, the church was “growing,” a “success.” Those who left the church were considered failures or weak, people unwilling to give their all to the pastor, uh, I mean God. No account is given for those harmed by being worked to death. Winners work for Jesus day and night, and losers don’t. Don’t you want to be a winner?

The IFB church movement is in numeric decline because this methodology proved not to be sustainable. Scores of people left for friendlier religious groups that allowed them space to live their lives. Others abandoned God altogether. However, ask IFB preachers why their churches are in the toilet, they will blame sin, liberalism, or laziness, refusing to acknowledge that the real culprit is staring at them in the mirror.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

I’m Not Preaching Now, I’m Telling the Truth

preaching

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from 1976-1979. Midwestern, started in 1954 by Alabama preacher Tom Malone, was a small Evangelical college known for producing fiery Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers. Malone pastored nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. College students were required to attend Emmanuel. In the 1970s, Emmanuel was one of the largest churches in the country. Today, its buildings are shuttered and a FOR SALE sign sits in the dust-covered main entrance door. (I recently heard that the buildings might have finally sold. The college campus was purchased and converted into community buildings and apartments.)

During my time at Midwestern, I heard Tom Malone preach several hundred times. Considered by many to be a great pulpiteer, Malone was a fervent preacher who punctuated his sermons with illustrations meant to drive home the point he was making. During one sermon, Malone said something I never forgot. In the middle of sharing an illustration, Malone said:

I’m not preaching now, I’m telling the truth.

Everyone laughed and then he finished his illustration.

Over the march of my life from infancy to the present, I’ve heard thousands of sermons and preached thousands more. I’ve heard some men who had no public speaking skills and others who were wordsmiths capable of enchanting hearers with their preaching and illustrations. Sadly, there are a lot more of the former than the latter. Even though I am an atheist, I still enjoy hearing a well-crafted sermon delivered by a man who knows how to turn a word into an epic Broadway production.

Preaching only the Bible is boring, uninspiring oratory. An effective sermon requires illustrations. Jesus himself was a master storyteller. His sermons made ample use of illustrations meant to drive home a spiritual point. A preacher who is good at his craft knows that illustrations are key to helping listeners understand and embrace his sermon. And therein lies the danger.

When I started preaching, I used illustrations from illustration books. As I aged and experienced more of life, I began to use more and more illustrations about my experiences and personal life. If a preacher isn’t careful, it is easy to massage his illustrations to “fit” a particular sermon or audience. Sometimes, the illustration becomes a lie.

As I mentioned above, I’ve heard a lot of sermons. I’ve heard thousands of illustrations and personal stories, all meant to get my attention or drive home a point. Over time, I came to understand that many preachers played loose with the truth, often shaping their stories to make a particular point or to cast themselves in a positive light. In other words, they lied, even if they didn’t understand they were doing so. Often, a speaker can tell the same Holy Spirit-inspired lie over and over until they reach a point where the lie becomes reality and they think it’s the truth.

Take Jack Hyles — by all accounts a masterful speaker and storyteller. He was also a narcissistic liar. I heard Hyles preach numerous times at Sword of the Lord/Bible conferences. His sermons were usually long on illustrations and short on Scripture and exegesis. For Hyles, it was all about the sermon, the story, and the invitation. Everything he said was meant to bring hearers to a point of making a decision for or against Jesus.

Here’s a story Hyles told about winning an auto mechanic to Christ:

When I got to his house, he was working under the car. He was lying face up on a creeper and could not see me as I arrived. “Hyles Mechanic Service!” I shouted. “Who called you?” he asked.” I was not called,” I replied, “I was sent.” “Well, roll yourself under and see if you can see what is the trouble. “I got another creeper, laid down on it, and rolled myself under the car with him. “Looks like to me you need the valves ground,” I shouted. “How can you tell from under here?” “I am not talking about your car. I am talking about you.” “Who are you?” he asked. “I am Pastor Hyles of First Baptist Church.” Then he became inquisitive, and I explained to him that he needed Christ as Savior to make him a new creature and that he was in worse shape than the car. With both of us lying on our backs looking up at the bottom side of the car, I told him how to be saved. When time came to pray the sinner’s prayer, he closed by saying, “Lord, I am just coming for a general overhauling.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both. The next Sunday he came forward in our service professing his faith in Christ.

Great story, and one I have no doubt is an admixture of truth and lie. Every time I read a story like this I am reminded of that Sunday morning almost forty-five years ago when I heard Tom Malone say, “I’m not preaching now, I’m telling the truth.”  Now, that will preach, as the Baptists like to say.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Short Stories: The Preacher Goes to the XXX Movie House

xxx

I grew up in rural Northwest Ohio. We didn’t have XXX movie houses or strip clubs. In Bryan, Ohio, only two establishments sold adult magazines. I was nineteen and a student at Midwestern Baptist College before I perused my first pornographic magazine. I suspect many of the young men studying at Midwestern had similar experiences. Our rural, small-town cultures sheltered us from the perversity found in big cities, as did the hellfire and brimstone preaching of the churches we came from. Sexual naïveté ran wild at Midwestern, and the college’s answer was to regularly preach against sexual sin, hoping that doing so would keep students from sexual temptation.

Pontiac, Michigan was a dirty, dying industrial town. Its downtown area had numerous adult entertainment establishments, including a XXX movie house that played the latest pornographic movies and hosted amateur night stripper contests. It was not uncommon to see a dozen or more prostitutes plying their trade on downtown Pontiac street corners. One woman who comes to mind was a rather large woman with huge DDDDDDDD breasts. She would briskly walk the streets braless, breasts bouncing chin to belly button. It was quite a sight to behold.

As you might surmise, downtown Pontiac was a magnet for young, virile, horny Baptist boys. The personal contact rules (please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule) at Midwestern forbade physical contact between dating couples. No hand-holding. No kissing. No hugging. No nothing. Students were required to stay six inches away from their boyfriends/girlfriends at all times. Of course, students broke the six-inch rule with impunity, causing all sorts of guilt and fear. The good news was that Jesus was only a prayer away. That’s the Baptist way: sin, ask for forgiveness, promise never to sin again — wash, rinse, repeat. It’s a great way to live.

One night, after much prayer and temptation, I decided to check out the fine art films at the XXX movie house. I parked away from the theater, thinking that if anyone who knew me drove by, they wouldn’t see my car. As I walked from my car to the movie house, I could “feel” the “Holy Spirit” telling me, Don’t do it, Bruce. God says it’s a sin. The Bible says it’s a sin. Your pastor says it’s a sin. Your dorm supervisor says it’s a sin. Your preschool Sunday School teacher says it’s a sin. All these voices in my head, but one voice stood above all others — mine. I wanted to do this. I was curious about what was behind the theater’s doors. And so I made my way to the theater’s entrance, paid my admission, and found a seat at the back of the theater.

The first act of the night was an amateur stripping contest. Local young women — some of them prostitutes — stripped and paraded back and forth on the stage. This was the first time I had ever seen a woman naked. I battled conflicting emotions. On one hand, I felt guilty. I was breaking the law of God, and I was violating college rules. On the other hand, I felt excitement — sexual excitement. It was my first time seeing a woman’s body in all its glory — as naked as Eve in the Garden of Eden. What more can I say? After all of the women had performed, judges determined the first, second, and third place winners. The winners were given cash prizes.

Then it was time for the feature film. As with the amateur contest, the movie definitely exposed me to sexual things I had never seen before. Needless to say, I was fascinated by what I saw. I am sure some readers of the Evangelical persuasion are thinking, Oh my God Bruce, you were taken in by Satan’s greatest temptation — lust. I bet you couldn’t keep from doing this again, right? Sorry to disappoint you. This was my first and last trip to the XXX movie house in downtown Pontiac. I would later marry a beautiful dark-haired girl who was a wonder to behold in her own right. Why look from afar when you can see, touch, and well, you know . . .

The highlight of the evening came not on the stage, but as I was leaving the theater. As I exited and turned my head to the right I saw, much to my surprise, a graduate of Midwestern and deacon at Emmanuel Baptist Church (the church college students were required to attend). Our eyes met, and then both of us quickly turned away, pretending that we had never seen the other. This man and his wife were good friends of Polly’s parents. When their names came up in family discussions years later, I so wanted to say . . . boy do I have a story to tell!

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Let’s Go Soulwinning

lets go soulwinning
Jack Hyles, Let’s Go Soulwinning

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise. Proverbs 11:30

Soulwinning — the art, the endeavor of sharing the gospel with sinners and leading them to put their faith in Jesus Christ. A metaphor for evangelism or witnessing. (It is not a word found in the English dictionary.)

Soulwinner —  a person whose purpose, desire, and motivation is to share the gospel with sinners and lead them to put their faith in Jesus Christ. (It is not a word found in the English dictionary.)

The Bible makes it clear that every church should be a soulwinning church and every Christian should be a soulwinner.

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. Mark 16:15

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:19-20

Matthew 28:19,20 is commonly called the Great Commission. While some may argue that the Great Commission was given ONLY to the eleven disciples, most sects and pastors think the Great Commission is a command given by Christ to every Christian in every generation, until Jesus returns to earth.

Why is it then that most Christians never verbally share the gospel with another person? I am not talking about inviting people to church so the head soulwinner, the pastor, can preach the gospel to them. I am not talking about nonverbal, just let your light shine or any of the other excuses Christians give for not verbalizing the gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Why is it that most Christians never, one time, in a clear, concise way, share the good news of the gospel with a lost, hell-bound sinner? Isn’t not doing so a direct repudiation of the Great Commission — a direct command given by Jesus to his followers?

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement has turned soulwinning into fine art. Churches hold soulwinning conferences and clinics. These special events are used to light a fire under church members who are not soulwinners. They are also used to train members in the best soulwinning methods and techniques. Technique matters. IFB Evangelist Dennis Corle bragged to me that he could win a soul in five minutes. According to him, all a soulwinner had to do is follow the script. Follow the script, use proper technique, and you too can be a great soulwinner like Dennis Corle.

No one was a bigger promoter of soulwinning than the late Jack Hyles — the former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. Hyles was famous for telling stories like this:

A few years ago I was in a Bible Conference in Houston, Texas. After a morning service, I returned to my room at one of the large motels on the north side of Houston. To my surprise, the door to my room was open and I heard singing coming from the bathroom. After checking the room number with my key, I realized I was in the right room. Perhaps someone else was in the wrong room.

I hollered through the door, inquiring who was there, only to find it was the Negro maid cleaning out the bathtub. She was actually down in the tub cleaning out the ring.

I asked her if she were a Christian. She said, “Mercy, no! I am as mean as the devil.” I got my Testament out and showed her the plan of salvation. All the time she was in the bathtub. After I showed her how to be saved, she knelt in the tub and received the Saviour.

I have laughed many times about this and have jokingly said, “I guess I am the only preacher in the world who ever won a lady in a bathtub!” This is just another of the many unusual experiences that God gives to soul winners. We should be on the lookout constantly for people who need the Saviour.

I have won people to Christ in train stations, in bus depots, on airplanes, in grocery stores, in barber shops, in shine parlors, in service stations, in garages, in school buildings, on ball diamonds, and in many other places. There are many hungry hearts waiting for someone to tell them the story.

You can read more of Hyles’s soulwinning stories here. Hyles was a powerful preacher and a masterful storyteller. He was also a pathological liar.

For decades, Hyles and First Baptist Church conducted what they called Pastor’s School — a week-long event used to motivate pastors and church leaders to win more souls. Under the leadership of John R. Rice and Curtis Hutson, the Sword of the Lord held Soulwinning Conferences all over the country. These conferences were used to encourage and motivate pastors and churches that had forgotten Jesus’s command to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

From the 1960s-1980s, countless IFB churches experienced explosive growth as they went into the highway and hedges and compelled (without vampire powers) sinners to put their faith in Jesus. In the 1970s, many of the 100 largest churches in America were IFB churches.

Today? First Baptist Church in Hammond, once the largest church in the world, no longer conducts Pastor’s School, The Sword of the Lord no longer holds soulwinning conferences all over the country. Most of the IFB churches that made the Top 100 list in the 1960s-1980s are shells of what they once were. Some have even closed their doors. What happened?

In 1976, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. Midwestern, a small IFB college, was known for producing preachers who were great soulwinners. Tom Malone, the founder and chancellor of Midwestern, was also the pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Every student was required to attend Emmanuel.

For many years, thanks to its bus ministry, Emmanuel experienced explosive attendance growth, and was listed as a Top 100 church. Emmanuel saw high attendance days of over 5,000. Soulwinning was the lifeblood of the college and church. Students were required to go out soulwinning at least once a week, and each week they required to account for their soulwinning activities, by filling out a slip that detailed how many doors they knocked on, how many people they witnessed to, and how many people they led to Christ. Many students, myself included, lied about their soulwinning activities. Fake it till you make it, right?

Midwestern held a soulwinning contest while I was student there. Students competed with each other to see who could win the most souls. The winner of the contest usually won a hundred or more souls. Every student was required to participate in the soulwinning contest. One year, the college put up a big banner and a chart that was used to track who was winning the most souls. In the mind of Tom Malone, soulwinning was all that mattered.

Today? Midwestern has sold off its buildings. A developer had turned the main school building into a senior center, and the dorm has been turned into an apartment complex. The handful of students who remain meet for classes at Shalom Baptist Church in Orion Michigan. Emmanuel, a church that once bragged about being a Top 100 church is no more. Its church facilities are up for sale.

What happened? Why is Emmanuel closed, Midwestern a shell of what it once was, and the IFB church movement facing steep numerical decline?

If you ask IFB pastors this question, they will likely tell you that the WORLD is the cause for the attendance decline. People love sin more than they love Jesus. They might even point the finger at Evangelical mega churches and their slick marketing, worship bands, and relational sermons. Where they will never point the finger is at themselves. In their minds, they are the true church, preaching the true gospel. They seem unable to see that it is their theology and methodology that has led to their precipitous decline.

Instead of preaching a transformative, holistic gospel, many IFB pastors preach what is commonly called decisional regeneration — also known as easy-believism or one-two-three, repeat after me. Salvation became a simple transaction between a sinner and God — believe these propositional truths and thou shalt be saved. Sinners were told to pray a prayer:

Dear Lord Jesus, Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. Come into my heart and save me from my sins. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. I am trusting you to take me to heaven when I die. Amen.

According to countless IFB churches and pastors, if people pray this prayer, they become, in that moment, born-again Christians. Millions and millions of Americans have prayed a prayer such as the one above. From Billy Graham crusades and Campus Crusade outreaches to Southern Baptist churches and IFB churches, the sinner’s prayer contained the magic words that made one a child of God. This bastardized version of the gospel filled churches with people who had no idea about what it meant to a Christian or a member of a Christian church.

The sin of the soulwinning movement and the IFB church is that they thought that winning souls was just a matter of using the right techniques. Pastors taught church members to use certain formulas such as The Roman’s Road to lead people to saving faith in Christ. Got Questions, a Fundamentalist website explains The Roman’s Road like this:

The Romans Road to salvation is a way of explaining the good news of salvation using verses from the Book of Romans. It is a simple yet powerful method of explaining why we need salvation, how God provided salvation, how we can receive salvation, and what are the results of salvation.

The first verse on the Romans Road to salvation is Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” We have all sinned. We have all done things that are displeasing to God. There is no one who is innocent. Romans 3:10-18 gives a detailed picture of what sin looks like in our lives.

The second Scripture on the Romans Road to salvation, Romans 6:23, teaches us about the consequences of sin – “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The punishment that we have earned for our sins is death. Not just physical death, but eternal death!

The third verse on the Romans Road to salvation picks up where Romans 6:23 left off, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 5:8 declares, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus Christ died for us! Jesus’ death paid for the price of our sins. Jesus’ resurrection proves that God accepted Jesus’ death as the payment for our sins.

The fourth stop on the Romans Road to salvation is Romans 10:9, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Because of Jesus’ death on our behalf, all we have to do is believe in Him, trusting His death as the payment for our sins – and we will be saved! Romans 10:13 says it again, “for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins and rescue us from eternal death. Salvation, the forgiveness of sins, is available to anyone who will trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

The final aspect of the Romans Road to salvation is the results of salvation. Romans 5:1 has this wonderful message, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Through Jesus Christ we can have a relationship of peace with God. Romans 8:1 teaches us, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Because of Jesus’ death on our behalf, we will never be condemned for our sins. Finally, we have this precious promise of God from Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Would you like to follow the Romans Road to salvation? If so, here is a simple prayer you can pray to God. Saying this prayer is a way to declare to God that you are relying on Jesus Christ for your salvation. The words themselves will not save you. Only faith in Jesus Christ can provide salvation! “God, I know that I have sinned against you and am deserving of punishment. But Jesus Christ took the punishment that I deserve so that through faith in Him I could be forgiven. With your help, I place my trust in You for salvation. Thank You for Your wonderful grace and forgiveness – the gift of eternal life! Amen!”

Have you made a decision for Christ because of what you have learned through the Romans Road to salvation? If so, please click on the “I have accepted Christ today” button below.

Soulwinners are told to stay on point, reiterating the points in the soulwinning plan. If unsaved sinners ask questions not related to salvation, the questions are to be ignored and sinners steered back to the soulwinning plan. They are to give sinners just enough information to get saved. Their questions would be answered later after they were baptized and became a part of the church.

Think for a moment about what I have written here. Doesn’t all of this sound similar to a sales program used by Amway or some other direct marketer? Work the plan! Stay on point! Press the prospect to make a decision! Don’t let them ask questions! Close the sale!

When I was in college, I sold Kirby vacuüm cleaners. My Dad sold them for many years, and I thought, like father, like son. Every Saturday, the local Kirby office would hold mandatory sales meetings for their salesmen. These meetings were pep rallies meant to motivate salesmen to sell more vacuüm cleaners. They even sang songs with lyrics like There’s power, power wonder-working power in a Kirby, sung to the tune of the There’s Power in the Blood.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

1976-1978: The Midwestern Baptist College Dorm Snack Room

polly shope bruce gerencser 1977
Polly Shope and Bruce Gerencser, February 1977,
Midwestern Baptist College Sweetheart Banquet

It was late September 1975. I had driven to Phoenix to spend the weekend with my twenty-year-old girlfriend Anita at the Southwestern Conservative Baptist Bible College. We had started dating six months prior, a relationship that quickly turned serious. Both of us had volatile personalities. Years later, I concluded that had we married, it is likely one of us would have ended up in prison for murdering the other. 

Our weekend together turned sour, and by the time Sunday night arrived, I had broken up with Anita and angrily driven back to the home of my dad and his wife in the southeast Arizona community of Sierra Vista. I vividly remember driving my 1960s Chevrolet station wagon at excessive speeds the three hours home, culminating in a speeding ticket near Huachuca City. The same state trooper had ticketed me the previous week for assured clear distance. He warned me that my next ticket could result in the loss of driving privileges. I was eighteen.

By the next weekend, I had packed my meager belongings in two suitcases, hopped a Greyhound Bus, and traveled to my mom’s home in the northwest Ohio community of Bryan. I left my car with my father to sell, which he soon did. I am still waiting for the money. 

After returning to the place of my birth, I immersed myself in the life of First Baptist Church in Bryan, reconnected with friends such as Randy Rupp and Dave Echler, and became the dairy manager at Foodland, a local grocery store. I planned to wait a year and then enroll for classes at Briarcrest Bible Institute in Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada.

In early 1976, I turned my focus towards preparing for college. At the time, Canada had strict financial requirements for non-residents attending Canadian colleges. It became clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to meet this requirement, so I began looking at other Fundamentalist colleges to attend. I asked my pastor, Jack Bennett, for recommendations. He provided none. I came away from our discussion angry. I suspect Pastor Bennett thought that I was not qualified or well-suited to become a pastor, due to my family background and general orneriness. 

My mom’s dad and stepmother lived in Pontiac, Michigan. They attended Sunnyvale Chapel, a Fundamentalist church. Upon hearing that I was not going to Briarcrest, the Tiekens suggested that I check out Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac. In June of 1976, I drove up to Pontiac to check out the college. I quickly decided that Midwestern was where “God” wanted me to study for the ministry. In truth, Midwestern was much cheaper than other Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) colleges. Jobs were also plentiful. My grandparents, ever-helpful — until you crossed them — found a job for me working at the Rochester Hills Kroger. (Please see John and Dear Ann.)

I arrived at the Midwestern dormitory in late August 1976. A few weeks later, I started dating a beautiful seventeen-year-old dark-haired preacher’s daughter who would later become my wife. 

Men lived in the basement and the first floor of the dorm. Women were housed on the second floor. As one walked into the dorm, one entered a common meeting room. At certain times, dating couples could sit there six inches away from each other (please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule), and “fellowship.” To the right, down the hallway toward the section of the men’s dormitory called the “Spiritual Wing,” was the snack room. (I lived on the “Party Wing.” Of course, I did.) 

While Midwestern had a school cafeteria that provided rudimentary lunches for students, most dorm students did not use the cafeteria. In my case, I was too busy taking a full load of classes and working a fulltime job to fit going to the cafeteria into my schedule. Thus, for the two years I lived in the dorm, the snack room became my “kitchen.” I say “kitchen,” but that would imply it had basic appliances such as a stove, refrigerator, and cooking utensils. It didn’t. The snack room had a handful of tables and a microwave. 

Most students either ate at nearby fast-food restaurants, ate out of a can, or warmed up meals in the microwave. Imagine the eating habits I developed from eating this way for two years. The highlight of each week was going out on a double date on the weekend to a real restaurant that served food that didn’t require a can opener. I will never understand why Midwestern didn’t care enough about dorm students to require that they eat at least two meals a day in the school cafeteria. Surely they had to know that students needed proper nutrition and sufficient nourishment; especially since students were spending virtually every waking hour attending classes, doing homework, working fulltime jobs — often at local factories — attending church three times a week, working bus routes, teaching Sunday school, preaching, and going soulwinning. Whatever the reasons, dorm students were left on their own to scavenge for food. This led to numerous hilarious stories. 

One evening, Polly decided to cook a special meal for me. She knew that I loved liver and onions. I had eaten it on one of our early dates at Jerry’s Restaurant. Polly bought one of those ribbed microwave “browning” plates and cooked liver and onions. Needless to say, an awful smell emanated from the snack room as Polly lovingly cooked for me. The taste was not much better. 

One student worked at a nearby McDonald’s. Each night at close, the manager instructed him to throw away the unsold hamburgers. Not wanting to miss out on a free meal opportunity, the student brought the hamburgers home. Remember, there was no refrigerator — students were not permitted to have appliances or electric cooking implements in their rooms — so this student took to storing the hamburgers outside in a snowbank. More than a few of us afforded ourselves to one or more of Tom’s free hamburgers. It’s a wonder we didn’t get food poisoning. 

Most students had a food box. I had a long cardboard box that I kept under my bed. It was not uncommon for students to trade foodstuffs. It was also not uncommon for food (and money) to come up missing. We may have been at Midwestern to serve God and train for the ministry, but hunger and an empty gas tank will turn the best of people into petty thieves. I put the blame for this not on a lack of character, but on the blindness and indifference of Tom Malone, the college president, and dorm supervisors to the financial and material plight of many single students. All the focus was on winning the lost. What’s a bit of hunger when souls need saving, right? I suspect some with the college administration believed that deprivation was good for students; that suffering hardship would make for better Christians, and for better pastors and missionaries. Midwestern advertised itself as a “character-building factory.” By the time I arrived at Midwestern, I had already lived through nineteen years of doing without. I knew how to adapt and survive, even it meant swiping Hostess cupcakes and soft drinks from the grocery where I worked. 

Polly, on the other hand, came from a solidly middle-class family — a new car every two years, annual vacations. Polly’s dad entered the ministry late in life, graduating from Midwestern in May 1976. Polly was grossly unprepared for the life that awaited her at Midwestern. Her parents gave her little, if any, financial support, expecting her to “survive” on the part-time wages she earned at places such as Burger King, Sveden House, and cleaning houses. Her means of transportation was a worn-out early-1970s AMC Hornet. After the car broke down, her parents told her to junk the car, with no new car forthcoming. Fortunately, her mechanically inclined boyfriend was able to fix the car. When it finally gave up the ghost, Polly drove my car. If it hadn’t been for me providing financial support and allowing her to drive my car, I doubt she would have made it through her dormitory years. Of course, I have a vested interest in making sure that didn’t happen.

While I have many fond memories from the two years I spent living in the Midwestern dorm, I do wish that the college had invested more money in the welfare of its students. Sadly, all too often, it seemed that students were just fuel for the machinery of the college and nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church — the church all dorm students were required to attend. As a pastor, I had the opportunity to counsel church teens about their post-high school plans. While I suggested checking out schools such as Bob Jones University, Tennessee Temple, and Pensacola Christian College, I never recommended Midwestern. Had Midwestern cared better for their students, I may have sent students their way. It’s not that I am bitter about my experiences at Midwestern, I’m not. But the college could have been so much more had it not been so focused on soulwinning. The number of dorm students who didn’t return for their sophomore year was staggering. Midwestern prided itself on this winnowing process; sending home those who were “affectionately” called Momma-called, Daddy-sent preachers. By the time students reached their senior year, the majority of the students in their freshman class had dropped out. I wonder if this attrition could have been lessened had college officials truly cared about dorm student living conditions.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bruce Gerencser